Salvation From Both a Jewish and Christian Perspective- Part 4

Up to this point, we have reviewed what salvation means and that it comes from faith in a Messiah. There are certain expectations (based on biblical prophecy) regarding what the Messiah will do, which we have examined from both a Jewish and Christian perspective. In doing so, we have seen a vast difference in what each religion expects, even though this is supposed to be the same Messiah. In this lesson, the fourth part of our series, we will look at how these different viewpoints and beliefs developed over the millennia since Yeshua (Jesus) walked the earth.

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When Yeshua was with his Disciples, traveling and teaching in the Synagogues and towns throughout Judea, he was preaching from the Tanakh (the “Jewish” Bible) because that was the only “Word of God” that existed. After he was resurrected and returned to heaven, the Disciples continued his teachings. Eventually, they died out and Shaul (Paul) was one of the last of the (divinely appointed) Apostles who taught, and he went mainly to the Gentiles, although he always taught in the Synagogues first.

Back then there were, as there always have been, many more Gentiles than Jews, and once the Jewish population had been separated into those that accepted Yeshua and those that didn’t. It is very important to know that both groups were still practicing Judaism- there was no “conversion” event, but what started to happen is that the newer additions to this movement would be mainly composed of Gentiles. As these formerly pagan worshipers accepted Yeshua as their Messiah, they were the ones converting- to Judaism! There were no other religions around- you were either a Roman pagan worshiper or a Jewish God worshiper, and the Jewish ones were obeying what is written in the Torah.

With the advent of more and more Gentiles being added to this group of Messianic Jews, and because this conversion was such a paradigm shift in lifestyle, the Messianic leadership (Elders) in Jerusalem decided to make it easier for them. In Acts 15:20, by a suggestion from Yacov (James, the brother of Yeshua) it was determined that Gentiles converting to Judaism through Messiah Yeshua immediately had to change their lifestyle in this way:

1). no fornication;

2). no eating of blood;

3). no eating of anything strangled to death; and

4). not eating anything that had been sacrificed or devoted to an idol.

The important thing to note is that these were not the only requirements, they were only IMMEDIATE changes that had to be made. James’s suggestion ended with the statement that these new converts would be hearing the laws of Moses in the synagogues every Shabbat.  That clearly indicates James expected that eventually these converts would learn and be obedient to all of the Mosaic Law, completing their conversion to Judaism.

In other words, there was never to be any difference between how Jews rejecting Messiah and Jews and Gentiles accepting Messiah would worship God.

The practice of Judaism was allowed in Judea because Rome had originally been invited into the land to help the Jewish people get rid of the Seleucid kings. Because the religion was well established and an integral part of the society and government, Rome allowed the people to continue to practice it. However, by the time Yeshua arrived, the Jewish population wanted (as discussed earlier) their Messiah to free them from Roman rule. When this expectation went unmet, they began to revolt themselves. This was not viewed favorably by Rome, and there was the beginning of political persecution by Rome against the Jewish people. The first Jewish-Roman War (70 CE) resulted in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the depopulation of the Jewish people (and renaming of Judea to Palestine by the Romans) was the result of the Bar Kochba revolt of 132-135 CE.

BTW– The Western Wall was not a part of Solomon’s temple- it was the remaining section of the wall built by Herod which surrounded the court of the original Temple.

As the population of “Believers” continued to grow, there were many more Gentiles joining than Jews, and eventually (as the original Apostles died out and were replaced) the leadership of this movement was populated by Gentiles and through wrongful interpretations and desire to separate from the Jewish population (which was having its own problems with Rome) led to a separation from Judaism of this new movement being called Christianity.

Let’s go back in history for a moment: when the 9 1/2 tribes of Israel living in the land God promised were split under Jeroboam into the Northern and Southern tribes (Shomron, also called Israel in the north and Judea in the south), the split was as much spiritual as it was political. In the north, idol worship took over and they rejected the Torah and the God of their fathers to worship the many Semitic gods of the surrounding peoples. This was as much a political move as a religious one; by doing this, Jeroboam ensured that his people would not be enticed to return to the southern kingdom.

Now we return to the end of the first century and see the Christian leadership following the example of Jeroboam. By separating themselves from the Jewish population, spiritually, they could try to avoid the Roman persecution by showing they were not Jews. This started with Ignatius of Antioch, one of the early “church” leaders. In 110 CE he changed the Sabbath day to Sunday.

Later, under the rulership of Emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicene (third century), the doctrine of modern day Christianity was formed which completed the total separation of Jews and Christians.

Some examples of the Christian doctrine are the changing of the Sabbath day, the ideology of the Trinity, the festivals of Christmas and Easter, and the idea that salvation was available universally and not centered on Jerusalem. These changes, as well as many others, resulted in the total separation between Jews and Christians, which were now totally different religions. Yeshua was no longer a Jewish Messiah- he was now the Christian Savior.

For over two thousand years, between Jews and Christians, there has been animosity, bigotry, and ignorance. During these times the doctrine of the “Church” has been progressively hateful and derogatory towards the Jewish people. Ignatius, who already changed the Sabbath day, also declared (circa 110 AD) that where there is Christianity there cannot be Judaism. In or around 200 CE, Origin declared that because the Jewish people rejected Jesus Christ, it is right that their nation was destroyed and that God now offered his joy to the Christians; this is the beginning of Replacement Theology. And we get still more from Ignatius, who also said that living in accordance with Jewish law means that one has not really received Grace. This is still being taught today, which I can personally confirm as I have (more than once) been told that if I do all that “Jewish” stuff I am still “under the law” and not really saved.

When it comes to separating Christians from Jews and fostering hatred and fear, let’s not forget to mention the Crusades and the Inquisition, which (as we learned earlier) led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Jews by Christians who believed they were doing God’s work.  Spain, the progenitor of the Inquisition, was the world power in the 15th Century when Queen Isabella exiled all Jews from Spain. However, by the end of the 18th Century Spain was not even considered a viable threat, and has never recovered her position as a world power (didn’t God tell Abraham that those who curse him will be cursed?)

As we have already learned, Nazi Germany also thought they were doing God’s work- their belt buckles had “Gott mit uns” engraved on them (God is with us), and from the Jewish perspective, they were no different than Christians.

Lastly, Replacement Theology is a rampant right-wing Christian movement that says, essentially, because the Jews rejected Christ God has rejected the Jews and Born-Again Christians are now God’s true Chosen people, the “real Jews! Of course, the Bible is totally against this, as we can see in the following verses:

Matthew 19:28- Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jeremiah 30:11-I am with you and will save you,’ declares the LORD. ‘Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. 

Isaiah 49:16- Can a woman forget her nursing child, or lack compassion for the son of her womb? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are ever before Me.

Jeremiah 30:31-At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.

In the letter to the Romans, Chapters 9 through 11 Shaul confirms the Jewish people will always be God’s chosen and will one day be grafted back onto the tree of Salvation. He warns the Gentiles not to become proud, which (apparently) they never paid attention to.

One last point regarding Replacement Theology: if they are truly God’s chosen people and the “real” Jews, then why didn’t they speak up during the Holocaust?

This ends lesson 4 of our series. In our next lesson, we will discuss methods we can use to try to reconcile the differences between the Jewish and Christian Messiah.

 

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Thank you for being here and please don’t hesitate to make comments- all I ask is that you be nice.

L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

Why Christianity Has Ignored the Torah

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Today I am doing pretty much an opinion piece but the historical references are accurate.

I have two theories about why Christianity, in general, has ignored the Torah. In truth, most of the Tanakh is ignored, but the Torah, which has been misidentified as “the Law”, is taught to have been done away with by Yeshua’s sacrifice. As such, Christianity has been focused on love and forgiveness, and has marketed salvation through the Blood of Christ as a “Come as you are” party, after which you can “stay as you are.”  

First, we must remember that in First Century Jerusalem there were two religions: Judaism and Roman paganism. When a Gentile repented of their pagan ways and accepted Yeshua as their Messiah, they were converting to Judaism- there was nothing else. When a Jew accepted that Yeshua was the Messiah, he didn’t convert to anything because Yeshua was (and still is) Jewish and taught from the Tanakh, which included the Torah. So, Jews were still Jews and Gentiles were converting to Judaism.

The Elders in Jerusalem gave the new Gentile Believers some time to wean their way (so to speak) off of paganism and into this very different lifestyle by only having 4 absolutely “You can’t do this anymore” items on the list of immediate changes they must make (see Acts 15:19-21.) Soon, there were more Gentiles accepting Yeshua than Jews, and the distance between a Jewish lifestyle and the changes Gentiles had to make was growing further and further apart.

To add to the problem, Rome was persecuting the Jewish population because they were rebelling against Roman rule. This was not a religious persecution, mind you- it was a political one. To the converting Gentiles, though, it didn’t matter- the closer they were associated with Jews, the more under Roman persecution they came. Let’s not forget that the power elite in Judea also was persecuting this new sect of Judaism(it isn’t Christianity yet) because the teachings of Yeshua eroded the power base of the Pharisees, which was a performance-based salvation through which they could control the people by use of traditions they created.

By the end of the 1st Century leading into the 2nd Century, the majority of Believers were Gentiles who changed the rules of worship. The Sabbath was changed to Sunday and Ignatius of Antioch proclaimed Judaism and (now called) Christianity were unable to exist together. At this time we see most of the commandments in the Torah being ignored and the (mostly) Gentile Believers no longer had anything to do with Judaism.

NOTE: this back-fired on the Christians because to the Roman government, what was even worse than rebelling was forming a new religion. The Jewish persecution stopped sometime around the time of the first Jewish-Rome wars (60-90 C.E.)  when Rome had killed thousands of Jews and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. The next devastation of the Jewish population was about 60 years later during the Bar Kochba Rebellion, and by then Christians only had to worry about Rome.

The second reason, in my opinion, that Christianity ignored the Torah is because of a terrible misunderstanding of the “Great Commission”, which is considered a commandment by Yeshua to go out and make disciples of everyone in the world. This is found in Mark 16:15 and Matthew 28:19.

I call it a terrible misinterpretation because it has been used as the justification for slaughtering thousands upon thousands of Jews and Muslims over the centuries (the Crusades and the Inquisition are the best-known means of performing what can only be called a “religious genocide”, but Nazi Germany and the Russian Pogroms are an indirect result of this.) The idea of going throughout the world and spreading the Good News was meant to be a benevolent ministry, not a military incursion where people are forced to convert or die. Any condemnation for rejecting God and/or Yeshua was to be administered by God, not people.

At some point, people realized that instead of the threat of death, to make the “Great Commission” successful market it as a “Once saved, always saved” program, and to sell the idea that “God loves you just as you are, ask forgiveness in his name and go to heaven.” Now that is an easy sell!

“Wow! All I have to do is proclaim Jesus is the Messiah, I am sorry I have sinned, please forgive me in Jesus’s name, Amen…and that’s all? Really? Just repeat the “Sinner’s Prayer” and I will be guaranteed a place in heaven forever? Where do I sign?”

See what I mean? Now, if I came to you and said you need to repent, accept Yeshua as your Messiah and follow the 613 commandments in the Torah, you might want to think about it for a while. Like, maybe, for the rest of your life think about it! It’s not an easy thing to just jump into a completely different lifestyle. There is a Shabbat where you aren’t supposed to buy or sell anything, you aren’t allowed to work on many festival days during the year, and you can’t eat any pork or shellfish. You can’t fornicate, you can’t lie, and you have to do this for the rest of your life! In fact, even after you have repented, if you return to your old ways of sin you will lose the salvation that you were given.

See what I mean? If I am trying to convert people from a gluttonous, sexually free and hedonistic religion to one of moderation, sexual purity and servitude to others, I will not be very successful. However, if I say just proclaim faith in Jesus, ask forgiveness and you are set for eternity, I will get many more people to join the club.

Following the Torah is being made holy, which means you are separated from the world and that results in the world not accepting you. People, human beings, want to be accepted. We are a social animal, and so the true religion that God gave to the Jewish people to bring to the world is not going to be a popular choice. Christianity, especially after Constantine, was and still is being sold as something very simple to change to.

Throughout history, Jews have not encouraged anyone to convert to Judaism- but Christianity is all about converting, and the easier it is to convert without really changing your current lifestyle, the more converts you will get.

So there you have it! Christianity has rejected the Torah because:

  1. they didn’t want to be part of the persecution of Jews by Rome; and more recently
  2. it makes it easier to get converts.

Let me again state that these theories are my own ideas. I expect that most Christians raised and accepting typical Christian dogma will vehemently disagree with me, and most Messianic Jews and Hebrew Roots Christians will agree with me, or at least accept that it is possible things happened this way.

 

Born-Again Christians and Legalism Born Again

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First and foremost let me say that I am ecstatic to see more and more Christians wanting to know their Messiah and who he really is, and what he really taught. They are realizing that the Jesus they have been told about is not the Yeshua who lived, preached and taught from the Torah. This is a wonderful and prophetic happening and will lead to the fulfillment of the prophecy that one day all knees will bow and all tongues confess that Yeshua is Messiah; on that day we will all be one in Messiah, worshiping God as he said we should.

That being said, let me go a little further and point out that with this new-found love for their Hebraic roots and for Hebrew, both Modern and Paleo, I see a really upsetting dark cloud on the horizon. That cloud is a new form of the legalistic mentality that was prominent in the First Century, which both Yeshua and Shaul (Paul) were totally against.

Let’s get something else clear before we go on: “Legalism” is the system under which faith is not important or needed to gain salvation. Under a legalistic system (which is what the Pharisee’s taught) you can be saved ONLY by strict and complete adherence to the Torah, as well as the rabbinic traditions that the Pharisee’s added to one’s activities and worship. Again, so no one misunderstands: under the system of legalism, faith is not needed to be saved. All we need to attain salvation is absolute obedience to everything we are supposed to do stated in the Torah, as well as strict and total adherence to Halacha (Talmudic, or Oral Torah) requirements.

Now, on to today’s message.

I have been blogging for over 5 years, and am a member of a number of different “Christian” or “Messianic” discussion groups, and one of the most prevalent arguments that constantly comes up is how to pronounce God’s Holy name (called the Tetragrammaton), how it is spelled, how to pronounce the name of the Messiah and how these things are absolutely necessary to prevent one from being fooled by the Enemy and (even worse) to not call out to false gods.

In a word, these concerns are ridiculous! A bunch of drek that no ones who really knows the Lord would be worried about. God isn’t going to condemn someone to Sheol (hell) because they call out to Jesus, or when praying to God use the name Jehovah or Yahushua, or if they call Yeshua Yahshua. If the person praying is praying to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in their mind and heart, and invoking the name of the Son of God, the Messiah God sent to earth to save mankind, it doesn’t matter what name they use. God knows the heart and the mind of everyone, as does Yeshua, so believe me when I tell you they know who you are talking to.

Not only is the name issue important to these people, but I see other ridiculous issues- we should pray after we eat and not before because it is a commandment to thank God for our food only after we have eaten it. As such, they imply (or even state) that praying to God and thanking him for the food on our table BEFORE we eat is a sin! Imagine! Thanking God is a sin! Who woudda evah tought’ it?

This need to be absolutely accurate using God’s name, or taking one single sentence from the Torah (specifically, Deuteronomy 8:10) and expanding it out of context, to indicate that we must perform some physical act correctly or we cannot be saved is Legalism.

They may not say this that way, i.e. if we don’t pronounce God’s name correctly we won’t be saved, but the indication is clear- not doing this is a sin, and since we all know sin prevents us from being in God’s presence, well…you can all add, I’m sure.

I am concerned that the zealousness I see from a number of people for this minutia, this useless straining of gnats while swallowing a camel, is going to choke the seeds that were sown and are starting to grow, just as it did to the new Gentile converts to Judaism in the First Century.  This is why I call it a new form of Legalism, the same thing that Yeshua, Shaul, and the Disciples fought against when Yeshua’s ministry was first growing.  Once the Council of Nicene got in the picture, then this issue of new converts to Judaism being taught the wrong message was totally overridden by the separation of Yeshua’s followers from mainstream Judaism. Essentially, after Constantine, obedience to the Torah as necessary for salvation was no longer a concern for Christians.

For those of you who are reading this and thinking that I am wrong, so be it. If you really believe God will condemn me to hell for calling him Adonai, or God (many even think the word “God” is pagan!) then I can tell you right now, absolutely, you have no idea who God is or what he is about. I pray that one day he will open your eyes and minds to the truth that he is a forgiving and compassionate God, and not as thin-skinned as you seem to think he is.

“Legalism” is a tool that the Enemy can use to cause dissension and confusion within the body of Messiah. It was used thousands of years ago to dissuade new Believers from the truth and tie them up in traditions and activities that didn’t lead to salvation, and today it is still being used to do the same thing. Those who are adamant that God’s name is spelled or pronounced a certain way are leading us away from the truth of who and what God is, and not edifying anyone. Those who take one sentence out of context and imply that praying to God to thank him for our food before we eat is a sin are just being silly, and misinterpreting the Torah (which is the real sin.)

PLEASE!!!  Stop worrying about how to pronounce the name of God; stop worrying about when you are supposed to thank God (I can tell you absolutely that God will never, ever be upset with you when you thank him for his blessings and provisions); stop worrying about ancient Hebrew; stop worrying about minutia and insignificant details. What you should be worrying about, if you must worry about something, is being led off the path of true faith in God. Too much emphasis on detail and performance is going to lead you into a hole, and when you make it necessary for others they will fall into that hole, with you. God is compassionate and understanding, God is looking for faithful obedience and not proper grammar or pronunciation, God wants you to obey him with a contrite and humble heart, not puffed up pride from the study of ancient scrolls and a Gnostic attitude towards salvation.

We do not need to understand God or even understand his word to be saved- we only need to be like little children, obeying as best we can out of love for our Father. Faithful obedience to Torah is an act of love, a response of thankfulness and trust that God knows what is best for us.

I am not saying be totally ignorant, but instead read the Torah, ask the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to guide your understanding, and don’t get all tied up in minutia and details. Yeshua told us to love God and love each other is all we need to do.

I believe that studying the Bible is a wonderful thing, and should be a life-long activity. But- when it becomes more important to do every little thing, know every little detail, study every ancient manuscript and tell others they must do what you think is right otherwise they are in sin, you have gone too far. Once you place “doing because it says to” over “doing out of faithful desire to please”, you are legalistic.

I can’t speak for God, but I am pretty sure that so long as what we do, we do to please him and try to be in obedience, he will be pleased.

The Finite Can Never Understand the Infinite

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Can you imagine what 1,000,000 candles would look like if they were all lined up in a row?

Can you picture in your mind what 1,000,000 dollar bills would look like if they were stacked one on the other?

I can’t.  My mind, although it is often in a state of flux, is still pretty sharp and yet I cannot picture what one million anything looks like. I cannot “see” it or imagine what it is.

This is the problem we have when we try to imagine or understand the awesomeness of God. He is so far out of our range of understanding, so distant from the furthest edge of the Bell Curve of our knowledge that we can never even come close to knowing what he knows. Or understanding why he does what he does. Or even understanding the things he tells us about.

In Judaism we have three types of laws:

  1. Mishpatim– these are the laws we can understand that are mostly “civil” laws, such as do not kill or do not commit adultery;
  2. Edot– these are ceremonial laws regarding the rites and practices such as rules for Shabbat and the sacrificial system; and
  3. Chukim– these are laws God gave to us that seemingly have no rationale at all. For instance, changing the sacramental bread every week or not wearing clothes of different cloths.

Human nature almost demands that we know the “why” of something. When someone asks us to do something, how many times is our first response, “Why?” This is no different with God because I hear and read, over and over…and over…so many people “explaining” why the Kosher laws are better for us or why we need to wear Tzitzit.

The answer I give is this,” Because God said so.”

That is all the answer we need, and the easiest answer to understand. I will go even further than this and say that if this answer isn’t enough for you, then you need to start asking yourself what your faith is based on?  If we say we have faith, but can’t accept God’s commandments without understanding the reason why we should, then we aren’t faithful at all. How can I say that? Easy!- if you cannot accept what God says without knowing the reason why, it is because you do not trust that God knows what he is talking about. That is an a priori truth, as far as I am concerned.

When we trust someone we do what he or she suggests, especially when we are unsure of what we are doing. We seek out confirmation that we are doing the “right” thing in the “right” way. I saw this when I was a Salesman: so many people needed to see articles from Consumer Reports or Better Business Bureau ratings or letters from customers justifying using my company because we did such a great job. Did they really think I would show them complaint letters? And I realized that these people had no faith in their own decision-making ability but total faith in other people’s ability to decide. In a similar way, so many congregations are constantly preached to about God’s love and compassion and forgiveness, all of which are good things, but when these are the only things that are talked about, the congregation is not given the chance to trust God as they should. Talking only about love and forgiveness is like third party confirmation- the people hear all about what they want to hear but they don’t learn what they need to know. And what they need to know is that God is there even when troubles are all around them. The leaders of God’s people must be trusted, and that trust must be turned to God.

We can (and should) question our human leadership, and we can ask God why (he can handle that), but we must not ask God to prove why what he says is something we should do. That is disrespectful and demonstrates lack of faith. Yes- ask God why things happen; Yes- ask God why whatever you are going through is happening to you; Yes- ask God why he is allowing something to happen. You can always ask God why he wants you to do something but you should never ask God to prove to you why you should do it.

Can you see the subtle but very important difference here? It is OK to ask God to explain something to you but it is not OK to demand he prove what he says to be something you agree you should do.  When God says do not eat pork, there are those who can explain why pork is unsafe using health studies about pork and Trichinosis, and others will use that to explain why we don’t need to obey that law anymore because of the USDA. In both cases, what we are doing, really, is trying to understand the “why” of Gods’ law so that we can justify obeying it.

My point is that the moment we try to understand something in order to justify it we are showing distrust in God. There is absolutely no reason why we need to understand any of God’s laws- NO reason! He is God, and that is all the justification “why” anyone needs; anything more than that and you are being faithless, obstinate, stiff-necked and rebellious.

So do yourself a favor- just forget trying to understand why when it comes to God and his commandments. It’s a useless and impossible thing to do because the finite (us) can never understand the infinite (God.)

Parashah Yayyechi 2017 (and he lived) Genesis 47:28 – 50:26)

This week we come to the end of the book of Genesis.

Jacob blesses Joseph’s children, and adopts them. He later blesses each of the 12 Tribes, then acob dies. The book ends with Joseph’s death and his request to make sure his bones are brought back to the Land when the children of Israel return.

When Jacob blesses Judah, we have a messianic prophecy of the coming of Yeshua…or do we? Where as Christianity sees this as a messianic prophecy, Judaism rejects it as such,,,but why?

Parashah Beresheet (In the Beginning) Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

Chag Simchat Torah!!  This is the holiday where we turn back the Torah, from the end of Deuteronomy to the beginning of everything: Genesis. Simchat Torah means “Joy of Torah”, and we certainly do receive joy from reading the Word of God!

This parashah takes us from creation of the universe and everything in it to just before the story of Noah. God created the universe, Earth, sky, ground, set boundaries for the oceans, created life in the seas, on the land and finally created us. That’s when things started going downhill.

All through the early stages of creation we read how “God saw that it was good”, and it was. I mean, REALLY good! And when Adam and Eve got here, things were still OK, Then the enemy got involved. He lured Eve into sin, and she lured Adam into sin, and ….well, you know the rest of the story.

But was it all the fault of the enemy? Did Satan do anything that forced Eve to eat the apple? Did Eve ram it down Adam’s throat? Did she threaten him with, “Eat this apple or you will be sleeping on the couch (that is, if we had a couch)”?

No, Satan didn’t force Eve, Eve didn’t force Adam, and even to this day no one forces us to sin. We’ve always had a choice, and we still do. The problem isn’t that we don’t have a choice, the problem is that it is just so much easier to sin. It is what the world teaches us to do, it is what we instinctively desire, and it generally yields immediate satisfaction. Whereas righteousness is hard to do- we have to overcome our sinful desires (iniquity), we have to deal with other people harassing us (because they don’t want to see righteousness in their presence- it convicts them), and we have to delay the rewards of righteousness until a future time. Righteousness usually doesn’t have immediate gratification, other than we know, in our hearts, that we are doing the right thing.

Let’s tackle what is probably the biggest issue that comes from Genesis- creationism vs. evolution.

Way back when, sometime around July of 1925, a substitute teacher in Tennessee named John Scopes taught human evolution. This was a violation of the Tennessee Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach human evolution in a state-funded school. Scopes was found guilty, fined $100, but that was later overturned on a technicality. The funny thing about this is that today, according to Wikipedia:

In the United States, the Supreme Court has ruled the teaching of creationism as science in public schools to be unconstitutional, irrespective of how it may be purveyed in theological or religious instruction. In the United States, intelligent design (ID) has been represented as an alternative explanation to evolution in recent decades, but its “demonstrably religious, cultural, and legal missions” have been ruled unconstitutional by a lower court.

So what was illegal to teach in 1925 is now the only legal thing to teach! Oy!

Even within Judaism, some of the greatest Jewish scholars and Torah teachers knew that the Genesis story was not to be taken literally. Rashi, known to be one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) Jewish commentator of all times, taught that the purpose of Scripture was not to give a strict chronology of Creation. Also, Maimonides (the RamBam) declared, ” The account given in Scripture of the Creation is not, as is generally believed, intended to be in all its parts literal.” The remarkable truth is that Judaism does not contest the evolution of species. Where the disagreement lies is with what drives evolution. The atheistic scientific community states that evolution is caused by random mutations,  where those mutations which proved more adaptable to the environment succeeded and the less adaptable mutations died out. Charles Darwin put forth this idea as the survival of the fittest.  Judaism (along with most Judeo-Christian and Muslim religions) does not accept that the advancement of species from lower order to higher order came from chance, but from Divine control. We call this Intelligent Design. The truth is, the answer to whether we were created or we evolved is, as it always has been: Does God exist?

If God exists, then we have intelligent design, and if there is no God, then it all happened by chance.

I can understand the depression and uselessness that people who reject God feel in their daily lives; after all, if everything you wanted to be or wanted to achieve was totally out of your control (because without God there is no control), then what hope do you have? Only the hope that some random collision of quarks in a sub-atomic environment will result, somehow, in circumstances and events which will benefit you. Not very promising, is it? Especially when compared to having a supreme being, who is loving, compassionate, all-powerful, knowing everything that there is and everything that will ever be, on your side helping you to attain those things you want.

I mean, really- there’s no comparison. But yet, millions (if not billions) of people who have heard about God will still reject Him and choose to live their lives with no hope, no control, and no future (because without God, there is no future beyond this life. Again, a very depressing and hopeless existence.)

I wrote about how there is no control without God in this blog: Without God There Cannot be Free Will.

Genesis tells us how everything in the universe started, and whether you accept God created it or believe it randomly occurred, life has always been what we make of it. We always have a choice to do, say, and act the way we want to. And what we choose to believe will define who and what we are.

For me, I choose to believe in God; I choose to believe that He created the entire universe for me and provided everything I need to survive; I choose to believe that God also provided a spiritual means for me to live eternally despite my own fatal flaw of iniquity ( yes, I am talking about Yeshua/Jesus); and I choose to believe that because God exists and because I accepted Yeshua as my Messiah, I have a future beyond this mortal existence.

Those without God have no future: they only have this life, and will have to spend it in this world without control, without hope, and without the complete joy that comes from God’s Holy Spirit indwelling in us.

And that is just so sad.

Is It Okay to Take a Shabbat Rest from the Shabbat?

How many of you are actively involved in your place of worship? What I mean by “actively involved” is that you do more than just come to services and tithe. Are you in a ministry? Are you on the Council? Do you help out with tasks and work that needs to be done? Do you help to lead liturgy?

When you are involved to the point where you are expected to be there and to help those in charge, the Shabbat can become something you have to do and not something you want to do. And if that happens, I would like to think (this is mainly for myself) that it is OK to feel that way.

I was exceptionally involved with the Messianic Temple where I worshiped in Philadelphia. I started slowly, just making coffee for the Oneg each Shabbat (we had Friday night services), then started to teach the Shabbat school (which now was taking time during the week to prepare), and after some 17 years or so I was on the Council with monthly meetings, helping to process the tithes, helping the Rabbi to lead liturgy (which included giving the message when the Rabbi wasn’t there), and I did all the construction and handy-man work needed. I also helped with the music ministry and was a member of the Dance ministry.

When the Rabbi left to start his own missionary program, those of us on the Council (4 of us) took over, and I was the one who (mostly) ran the Friday night service (liturgy and message), created the liturgy and led the High Holy Days services, and also led the bible study every Wednesday night. All the preparation had to be done during the week, somewhere between my 60 hours a week with work, commute and homelife.

I am not telling you this to brag on myself, but as an example of how much effort I, as well as many, many others, devote to our house of worship. And this was all volunteered- I never received a Shekel. Same thing for where I worship now- I am on the Council (I am the Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer- OY!) and I also help with the liturgy, music, whatever.

In my case, the Shabbat rest isn’t always very restful. Although I love serving the Lord, sometimes it is tough to get myself “up” for it. In truth, as Friday approaches I often feel anxious, and find myself waiting for it to be over.

Do any of you feel that way sometimes?

The place where I worship will probably be completely changed, if not disbanded, in the next few months. The Senior Pastor is stepping down, and the Assemblies of God will be taking over the church. It is currently (as it has been for years) a Hebraic Roots congregation, which is not the typical A of G church, but the Presbyter has been very accommodating, and we have been a sovereign church under the A of G, so they have pretty much left us alone. However, now that we are so small we don’t qualify as sovereign anymore (we cannot even meet our own bylaws for Council membership) and the Senior Pastor is going to be gone (we do not have any A of G credentialed Pastor to replace him), the A of G will reclassify us as a District church, and will put someone in charge. That means we will be having Sunday services (we will need to find another building) and (most likely) will not be a Hebraic Roots congregation. Consequently, the few remaining congregants will have to find somewhere else to worship, and I will absolutely NOT be a member of the typical Assemblies of God church. Their recent change of position regarding Israel is against God. As a stand-alone Hebraic Roots church I have no problem with the “legal” A of G association, but to worship as they do is not going to happen for me.

So, what will I do? I will do nothing. Really- no church, no Messianic Synagogue, no Home Worship groups, nothing but my own Sabbath rest from the Sabbath. I confess that Shabbat has become a bit of a burden the past year or so, especially since the Pastor has been out of town a lot and I have been running the show in his absence. I admit that I’m tired of doing it, and when what you are doing is supposed to be a joy, but it is a drag, then you need to get away for a while.

So, for me, I will be taking a Sabbath rest from the Sabbath. That doesn’t mean I will ignore the Sabbath- not a chance, but I will just be resting from running the services for everyone else’s Sabbath. Even the Priests under King David were given rest from their duties on a regular basis, so why not me? Or you?

Here’s the really hard thing to confess to you: I am actually hoping that the A of G will not replace our Pastor with a Hebraic Roots Pastor so that I can take off. If we continue as Hebraic Roots, I will have to stay because that will be (for me) a sign from the Lord that He is not done with me there. Not yet.

So, after my little kvetch about being tired, I want to say that if you ever feel that you need to take a Shabbat rest from the Shabbat, it is OK. I do believe, since the Levites were allowed rest, that God will also allow us rest from the obligations of running a service (so long as there is someone else there to handle things) now and then. I am not preaching or even suggesting you do not honor the Shabbat- that we must always do- but if you want to stay home and relax with family, or just by yourself, that is OK. In fact, I will go as  far as to say it should be done every once in awhile.

We all need to change our routines now and then. There is a word for when we do the same things the same way all the time, and that word is: stagnation.

 

“Once Saved, Always Saved” is a One-Way Ticket to Sheol

One of the many wrongful teachings that Christianity has proliferated over the millennia is that we are saved because Jesus (Yeshua is His real name) died for our sins, and when we call on His name for forgiveness we are no longer under the law but under Grace and all our sins are automatically forgiven, now and forever; in other words, Once Saved, Always Saved.

Let’s think about that for a moment…….hmmmmm….so, Jesus died so my sins can be forgiven, therefore I no longer have to worry about sinning because He paid the price of my sins. I am free, I am no longer under the Law (meaning the Torah; you know, that “Jewish stuff”) and now I am guaranteed that I will go to heaven.

In other words, I’m covered. The “J-Man” has my back!

But that is not true. The “Once Saved, Always Saved” lesson actually teaches that we don’t have to try to stop sinning, and we don’t even have to be repentant. In other words, it tells people they are OK no matter what they do because forgiveness is automatic, therefore they don’t have to change.

From this point I could find many, MANY passages in the bible that confirm this to be an absolute lie from the very pit of Sheol (that’s what we Jews call “Hell”), but I won’t. Why? Because I am going to ask us all to just think it through.

CAVEAT: Just because something makes sense to a human doesn’t mean it is right with God. His understanding and knowledge is so far above ours that what we think is sensible He knows to be nonsense, and vice versa, but there are some things that make sense to us that are sensible to God, and can be confirmed in the bible. What we are about to discuss is one of those things.

Let’s start with the fact that sin is bad and we aren’t supposed to sin. No one should disagree with that. Next, we need to agree that we do sin, and that we are incapable of not sinning (if anyone disagrees with that, we have a real problem.) So, where are we? Oh, yeah- sin is bad, we aren’t supposed to sin, but we will, so what do we do when we sin? We atone, and the first step in atonement is to ask forgiveness. Without forgiveness we are stained and thereby unable to come into God’s presence, meaning we got to Hell.

Let’s take a step back for a moment….it is important to note that we have to want to atone, don’t we? That’s called repentance. When we are repentant, we are sorry for the sin we committed. Every sin is a sin against God; we may do something nasty to another person, but that sin is also a sin against God because He told us not to be nasty to each other. King David knew this (Psalm 51): when we do something God said not to so, it is a sin against God.

Next step after repentance and asking forgiveness is to sacrifice, according to the rules and commandments God gave us. Uh oh!- we hit a hurdle with this one; God commanded all sacrifices be made at the temple in Jerusalem, and that place doesn’t exist anymore. So what do we do?

We can’t do anything, but God did do something for us- He sent Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) to be a substitution for the sacrifice at the temple. All the other steps in forgiveness, i.e. being repentant, asking forgiveness (for each sin) and doing T’shuvah (turning from sin) in our hearts, are all still part of the sacrificial system process. The only change is that instead of bringing a sacrifice to the temple (again, for each and every time we sin) we have Yeshua’s sacrifice as a substitution.

When we put it all together, we get this:

  1. We sin
  2. We’ are repentant
  3. We bring our sacrifice to the temple and by the means of it’s innocent blood that is shed we ask for cleansing of our sin
  4. If the sacrifice is accepted God will forgive our sin
  5. We go away cleansed of that sin at that time, and if and when we sin again, we go through the process once more

Yeshua ‘s sacrifice is a once-and-for-all sacrifice, but teaching that it automatically saves us from all our sins (those we have committed and those we have yet to commit), is against the process God outlined. Teaching that asking one time for forgiveness (through Yeshua’s sacrifice) means our sins are forgiven forever negates repentance.

Do you really think that God will forgive someone who isn’t repentant? Do you really think that we can automatically be forgiven of any sin without ever asking to be forgiven? If we are, then why did God say we had to sacrifice at all? Oh, wait- you’re saying that the animal sacrifices were only good for that one time, but because Yeshua is the Messiah His one time sacrifice is good forever? You’re right- His one time sacrifice IS good forever, but it is useless to you if you are not repentant, and when you are repentant you do what?

You ask for forgiveness, over and over and over, every single time you sin. Not every other sin, not only when you remember to ask, but for every, single sin you commit, large or small you must ask forgiveness in Yeshua’s name.

BTW..as far as God is concerned, there are no small or large sins, there is only sin.

When we don’t ask for forgiveness, we demonstrate we don’t really care that we sinned. It’s that simple.

Do you see the logic and sense of it all? To say we are forgiven automatically because Yeshua sacrificed Himself for us is to negate the need for repentance and to ignore God’s process of forgiveness. It is just plain wrong, from any and all angles, and totally against everything we read in the bible.

That is why this idea of “Once Saved, Always Saved” is a one-way ticket to Sheol: those who are unrepentant will not be forgiven. It won’t matter that at one time you called on the name of the Lord and asked forgiveness through Yeshua’s blood; each time you sin you have to ask forgiveness (and MEAN it!); each and every time.

There are warnings about people who apostatize in some of the letters from Shaul (Paul) and in Revelation we are told that most will turn from the faith. Have you ever thought that maybe one doesn’t need to renounce God to apostatize? Maybe all it takes is to ignore what God tells us, or simply do what we want to do, even if it goes against what God says?  Did you ever consider why Yeshua said that there would be some who call Him “Lord” but He tells them He never knew them (Matthew 7:21)?

I think those who believe the “Once Saved, Always Saved” ideology will find themselves in that group, the group of people who call Yeshua “Lord” but He doesn’t know them. The reason He doesn’t know them is because they aren’t repentant; yes, maybe they were at one time, when they first called on His name, but because they think they don’t have to, they haven’t called on Him since. One time doesn’t do it- you need to do it always. Shaul tells us to pray constantly, and that isn’t just for what we want but for forgiveness, too.

I suppose if anyone reading this doesn’t agree or get the point by now, they may never get it. I pray that someone who thinks “Once Saved, Always Saved” has had their eyes opened.

No one wants to be told, “I do not know you” when they see Yeshua in the Acharit HaYamim (End Days.)

What if Moses Had Said, “OK”?

Do you recall reading in Exodus 32:9-10 how God was so angry with the Children of Israel that he told Moses to stand aside so that He could destroy that nation, then make a new nation from Moses? Moses, fortunately for them, tells God why He shouldn’t do that, so God relents and allows the people to survive. It was a pivotal moment in the history of the Jewish people, that’s for sure.

Have you ever asked yourself what would have happened if Moses had said, “OK, Lord- let’s get ‘er done!”?

After all, Moses was not happy that he had to care for this multitude, and to have a nation of your own descendants, well, what’s so bad about that? It’s not like Moses solicited God to do that. On the other hand, maybe Moses was thinking God would want to have another 12 tribes, so for Moses (and Zepporah, too) that would involve some physicality that, at their advanced age, may not seem as enticing as it would have some, oh, 60 years earlier.

We know that the plan, as it is today, started with God creating Adam, who sinned and was sent out of the garden, bringing everyone into sin from their birth. A few generations later Noah was a type of Messiah, in that through him mankind was saved. But there was still original sin, so we fell back into rebellion. Next we have Moses, who is another type of Messiah, saving not the world (as Noah did) but the Jewish people from eventual destruction under Egyptian rule. The next step in God’s plan was Yeshua, the Messiah promised throughout the Tanakh. Yeshua saved more than just the Jews, He provided salvation for the entire world.

BUT…what if Moses had agreed? Would the plan of salvation come from a different angle?  For instance, there were 12 Apostles, but was that because God wanted 12 or only because there were 12 Tribes, initially? If God had made a nation from Moses, since Moses was a Levite, wouldn’t the nation of priests that God said he was creating (Exodus 19:6) be accomplished in one fell swoop? There wouldn’t be a need to have a tribe for kingship (Judah) and one for worship (Levi), but instead we would have the prophet/king/priest role all in one, right from the start. Moses is a precursor of Yeshua in that not only did he free us from slavery, but he was also king and prophet and priest, all in one. That is what Yeshua will be when He comes into His kingdom on earth. So if Moses had been the “new” Patriarch, would we need to have more than one tribe? And would we have had to see the Temple destroyed? Would Yeshua have come sooner? Would the enemy already be subdued and we would all be in God’s presence?

Who knows? I have my degree (undergraduate) in History, and I learned then about the danger of conjecture, i.e., assuming what would have happened “if” things went differently. It is fun to think about “what if…”, but we shouldn’t use conjecture when we are studying history. The same holds true when studying the bible.

The fact is that Moses knew better than to have a nation come from him because the nation was already there. Most will say that God really had no intention of destroying the people- He was only testing Moses. I believe that God does test us, but I also think too often we use that explanation when we don’t understand, or feel “uncomfortable” with the idea that maybe God really did want to do something we don’t ordinarily think God would do. I feel we pull the “God was just testing him” card out too quickly when we don’t understand what God was really planning. Sometimes we just don’t know what God intended; for me, I feel that if He wanted us to know it, He would have made it clear to us.

So what’s the bottom line to today’s drash? It’s that there could have been many different ways throughout history to get us to where we are today, and although it is fun to think about “What if?”, the thing that matters is not what if, but what is. We need to keep focused on the present and work towards the future. I love History and will never stop reading the bible, but I am not concerned with understanding why God did what He did or what might have happened- I am concerned with maintaining my relationship with God today and to strengthen it in the future. We need to understand the past so that the mistakes that have been made are not repeated in the future.

Know the past, but commit yourself to learn what God’s plan is (for you), and appreciate that He knows what is best for all of us. Don’t get stuck in the past thinking about “What if”: people who can’t get past their past have no future.

What Does “Torah Observant” Mean?

The most likely answer would be obeying everything the Torah says we should do. However, we all know that this is something which no one can do. Only Yeshua was able to be 100% human and still 100% Torah observant. In fact, He went beyond just doing what the Torah says we should do- He not only did it, He felt it, He thought it, He breathed it. He was, and is, the Living Torah.

In Judaism we say the Torah should be a mirror, so that when we look into it we see our own reflection. It is a shame that, even though there is nothing in and of itself that is too difficult for us to do in the Torah, we just can’t do it all, all of the time.

We are told that to disobey or transgress even a single stroke of the Torah is to transgress the entire Torah, and that no one is without sin, so if observance is impossible then how can anyone really be Torah Observant? Or even say they are?

The answer is obvious: no one can say they are completely Torah observant. However, I do say I am Torah observant, and I will share with you why I feel justified in saying so.

I consider myself “Torah observant” not because I do everything the Torah says I should, but because I want to. My heart wants to be observant, and I try to be observant. I respect the Word of God, and honor what He said we should do. Being Torah observant is the goal of my spiritual and physical life.

I know that on my own I can never be completely and perfectly obedient to the Torah, so I ask the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to guide me in what I do and say, constantly helping me to better understand what Yeshua was teaching about the Torah: not just the P’Shat (literal meaning of the words), but the Remez, the Drash and the Sod (the deeper spiritual and mystical meanings) as well.

Most of Christianity has been taught that the Torah, as far as Christians are concerned, was “nailed to the Cross with Jesus”: totally wrong, totally inaccurate, and totally against everything that Jesus and all His Apostles taught in the New Covenant writings. Yeshua died so that those areas of Torah which we cannot perform will not be a stumbling block with regards to our ability to be with God forever. Without forgiveness of sin we cannot come into God’s presence, and Yeshua made that forgiveness available through His sacrifice. The only thing that was “nailed”, if anything, could be the need to bring a sacrifice to the Temple in Jerusalem. That requirement in the Torah no one can obey anymore, yet thanks to Yeshua we don’t have to. Everything else in Torah is still valid.

Torah observance is like that ultimate goal we know we may never reach, but is what drives us to be better than we were. As you have heard me say many time before, we can never be sinless but we can always sin less. That is the goal, that is the light at the end of the tunnel, that is the laurel wreath we all seek: to be in accordance with what God wants in our life and to be pleasing to the Lord in all we say and do.

The first step in being Torah observant is having the desire to be so. Just like accepting Yeshua starts with T’Shuvah (repentance), we must want to obey all of God’s commandments. When you have that desire in your heart, then you will be able to say you are Torah observant, despite what physical things you do or don’t do.